Apple Laptop MSI Programming

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8SF review

This is my review of the laptop I bought. I’ll be comparing it a lot to my work machine which is 15″ MacBook Pro that I really like. Bear in mind that I’m no professional reviewer or even a hobbyist and the pictures I took aren’t that great. You’ll probably be better off just by googling pictures of it yourself. Anyway, I just wanted to share my thoughts on this laptop.

I contemplated on buying a new laptop for myself for quite some time. I had to, in a way, since I had ended up in a situation where I actually didn’t own any other computer than Mac Mini that we use as a HTPC. Not an ideal situation to put it mildy.

When I sold my GPU from my computer I somehow managed to break it. I suspect that the motherboard broke when I ripped the card off the last time. It just didn’t power on anymore. So I needed a new computer. I want to be able to code and I was hoping to do some light gaming, too.

I wasn’t quite sure what to buy since I found it really hard to justify to buy a gaming laptop which I wanted since they cost so damn much and one could buy a hell of a desktop with that kind of money. But I did not really want a desktop. I want portability combined with enough horsepower to get me through everything I throw at it. Last but not least I did not feel like buying a MacBook Pro. Not that there’s anything wrong with it (maybe except the price) but I wanted a Windows 10 laptop (one reason for that might be my recent transformation to C#) even though I don’t really have great experiences with them. Usually, my biggest gripe with those has been trackpad which is nowhere near as good as the one on Macs. Well, except maybe on Surface machines.

I didn’t want any of those traditional gaming laptops that look like, well, gaming laptops. I don’t want to drag a 4 kilogram (a bit over 8 lbs) or so laptop with me. My laptop has to be portable and I sure do not want it to look like a gaming laptop. It has to have a sort of professional look. I’m not that familiar with gaming laptops (or laptops at all for that matter) so I started my search.

At first, I thought Razer is the only one that makes decent looking laptops that are suitable for (light) gaming. But eventually, I found this. Instantly I fell in love the looks of it. In my opinion, the MSI GS65 does not look like a gaming laptop at all with its subtle gold accents and overall black look and it was thin and light. It weighs less than 2 kilograms (1.9 kg / 4.19lbs) and is about 17 millimeters thick. And yet it has 6 core CPU (Intel Core i7-8750H), 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max Q. At this point, I have to admit though that I got marketed. I thought that the “max q” design means that is more powerful than normal laptop variants. I should have done my research on this subject. Max q means that it is actually less powerful than normal laptop GPUs. Oh, and there has not been really a laptop variant of GPUs (just downclocked version of the desktop version) since Pascal architecture so that was news to me as well.

I hit the trigger and ordered it. After a few days of waiting, I was holding my very own sleek looking gaming laptop. One that was supposed to be my daily driver for a few years. Oh boy, and did it look beautiful.

Such a beauty!

I wasn’t disappointed when opening the box. The computer looked just as nice as it had looked at pictures and videos that I had seen. But unfortunately, the build quality was not on par with the looks at least not on my unit. It seems to creak quite a lot which is something that I was not expecting based on the price. It’s a tad bigger than 15″ Macbook Pro but lighter. IO is great: three USB 3.1, Ethernet port, microphone, and headphone jacks, HDMI, mini DisplayPort and USB-C 3.1 with Thunderbolt. The surface of the laptop is a fingerprint magnet and that can be seen from the pictures. I was prepared to it since it is mentioned on all the reviews but still it isn’t a nice “feature” to have.

IO (left side)
IO (right side)
From top to bottom: Macbook Pro 13″, Macbook Pro 15″ and MSI GS65

I was a bit disappointed though when I hit the power button and nothing happened. I’m more than used to a device having more than enough power to turn on at the very least after purchasing but this was not the case. The battery was dead so I had to plug it in. At this point, I would love to say that was the only disappointment but I would be lying. Pretty soon after I finished installing all my stuff* and games I hit some serious problems.

I tried to play a bit of Wreckfest just to see how it runs on this laptop but as soon as the game started I was hit with a BSOD. I am no stranger to Windows nor BSODs because I’ve been using Windows for more than 20 years by now. So I just sat there and waited for the laptop to restart itself. Then I tried playing again and the same thing happened. At this point, I was starting to get annoyed. Debugging problems was not how I was imagining to spent the evening. Nothing like this had happened before with any of my Macs. To be fair, this behavior was not like any of my previous experiences with my Windows computers either.

After a couple of more BSODs, I was frustrated. Having worked for years in IT support I came to the conclusion that trying to find and fix the problems is going to take a lot more time than installing everything again. Being the tech-savvy person that I am I just said fuck it, I’ll just do a fresh install of Windows to see if that helps. I wasn’t pleased that I’d have to install the stuff again I had already installed since it is rather time-consuming. The night and great unboxing experience were ruined by now. All that enthusiasm was gone, too. I am gotten to a point in my life where I just want my computers to just work. I value my time a lot more these days.

PC Master Race, baby!

When I had managed to install everything again I put the laptop down and decided I was finished for the night. I was frustrated and disappointed and on the verge of returning the laptop.

The next day I tried to play Wreckfest again and this time everything seemed to work just fine. I got a bit of the excitement back I had last night. Maybe this machine was not a waste of money and time after all. It was time to start using it properly. Not long after that, I got a BSOD again. But now I had a clue why that happened though. I had noticed a pattern. It seemed that every time I unplugged the charger problems arose after a few minutes if I did not change the performance settings, too. I tested my theory a couple of times and sure enough, it was spot on. Every time I got the BSOD the culprit was nvlddmkm.sys. Stop code was usually either “page fault in nonpaged area” or “video tdr failure”. I guess this can be/will be fixed with either new GeForce drivers and/or Windows updates. We’ll see. But until then I’ll just switch the performance settings to best battery life every time I unplug the charger to avoid any problems.

The trackpad is better than I had anticipated but no, it is not nearly as good as the one on the 15″ MacBook Pro. It is smaller even though it is bigger than I have gotten used to on Windows laptops but it is maybe a bit too sensitive. What I mean by that it sometimes acted like I had two fingers on it etc. But by adjusting it a little it got better and now it’s usable. Not as good as I hoped but still better than I expected. Unfortunately, I do not have that much experience with Windows laptops in general so I don’t have that much to compare it to. It certainly is better than in Dell Latitude lineup but probably not as good as the ones in Microsoft Surface lineup.

The keyboard is excellent, though. It is a SteelSeries RBG keyboard and a lot better than the one I’m used to (the 15″ MBP one). I didn’t notice any drop in typing speed when switching laptops. To be honest I think I am a bit faster typer on this keyboard. Still, it’s not perfect. I got a couple of issues with it and both are regarding the keyboard layout (I have one with Nordic layout). For some odd reason, MSI (or SteelSeries?) have opted for a smaller enter key (like on US keyboards) which is really weird for me. I constantly keep hitting the button above which is the single quote button. Another thing is that the button that has “><” is on the right side of the space button. At first, I thought that it’s not that big of a deal but just weird. When I tried to do some programming it proved to be a bigger inconvenience than I originally thought. I didn’t realize how much I actually use it. Since both JavaScript and C# embrace the so-called fat arrow I am using it a lot. I’ll probably get used to it but it is certainly going to require some time.

Other than those two minor issues the keyboard is great. And I think that once I fully get used to it the smaller enter with the single quote above it might prove itself useful when I’m programming in JavaScript since the use of single quotes over normal quotes is a convention. I might be wrong though since I don’t really have an idea how long does it take to get used to a different keyboard layout especially since every other keyboard I use has the normal Nordic layout. But I can’t stress this enough: for normal writing (not programming) the keyboard is fantastic. Of course, it’s still a far cry from my Corsair Strafe RBG mechanical keyboard but that’s expected.

One of the best keyboards I’ve typed on a laptop.

Speakers are one thing that is nowhere near as good as on the 15″ MacBook Pro. They fire downwards so the sound gets pretty muffled. For me, that is not a major issue for me since I will be using headphones with this like 90% of the time.

How about the performance then? During these ~4 weeks I have played Wreckfest, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and mostly with an external monitor sporting 3440×1440 resolution. All three games run buttery smooth with good enough graphics settings (got to be honest here: haven’t really paid attention to these). I did take a quick peek on the graphics settings when I started playing Shadow of War and most of them seemed to be on ultra.

While I do have to admit that I can’t really see the difference between ~60 FPS and 120 FPS but both games ran close enough to that 60 FPS since there was no choppiness to be seen. The fans do get loud, though. That is if you do something heavy enough to start the fans. Most of the time the laptop has stayed silent during normal use (surfing web, writing etc) but your mileage may vary. Still, it is something to keep in mind. Luckily the sound from the fans is far from the most annoying one I’ve heard but it is still hard to ignore (next to impossible when gaming). Combine that with the not-so-great speakers and one could imagine that the gaming experience without headphones isn’t that great. It’s doable though but I wouldn’t recommend it and as such, I play with headphones on.

I’d love to have Windows Hello but for some reason, MSI decided not to implement it. For a Windows laptop, I’d say it’s a must. Typing password/code is just so 90s. If we’d be talking about a desktop I couldn’t care less since I would not set a passcode to it. But for a laptop, it’s not even an option not to have passcode/password since that is much easier to get lost or get stolen.

This is not really a problem with the laptop per se but I haven’t gotten used to Windows’ sleep/hibernate mode. For some reason, it wants to close my apps when it goes to hibernate mode. I did tweak the settings a bit and allowed hybrid sleep (which was buried deep in power settings) and it won’t hibernate before 24 hours have passed so my apps don’t get closed instantly. Compare that to MacBook’s default settings which keeps my apps open at all times and the battery still lasts for days when sleeping. Windows really has some catching up to do in that regard.

Another thing that comes to mind regarding Windows and Docker combination. I should have done my research beforehand since the computer came with Windows Home and Docker does not work with the home version out of the box. You can probably get it to work but I couldn’t be bothered with that (at least not yet).

After the rocky start, I have been mostly happy with my purchase so far. Battery life could be better (but when that is not the case?) and build quality should definitely be a lot better, the trackpad is not as good as on Macs but even then it’s a great laptop. It packs more than enough power for my needs and I really, really enjoy typing with the keyboard. It looks great and is small enough to be carried with me to where ever I decide to go. Would I recommend it? That’s a tough question. Between the subpar build quality, missing Windows Hello and the problems I had it’s a hard sell. Especially when comparing to the price tag. Still, in the end, I’d say maybe. Would I buy it again knowing what I know now? Yeah, I think I would because even with its faults it is a great laptop. This is just after about four weeks so my opinion might change but if it does I will update it here. Who knows, I might even do a follow-up review later down the road.

*stuff: Visual Studio 2017, VS Code, Steam, cmder, latest GeForce drivers, Chrome, Node.js, Telegram, Wreckfest, Rocket League, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor & Shadow of War.

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